by Joanne Sullivan
One bright day in early December, Dr. Shirley Telles, the world's most published yoga researcher, came to Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama with her research team from Haridwar's Patanjali Yogpeeth and with Cambridge University's Dr. Robin Monroe. After meeting our lab team at SRSG's Meditation Research Institute, they all took a rare day off to share a meal overlooking Ma Ganga upstream.
There are several research studies which Dr. Telles presently co-directs at SRSG.
One of the most current is the recording of meditations in numerous languages. Swami Veda Bharati has asked that 7 to 10 meditative practices be recorded in 17 different languages. Teachers from around the world have come to participate. The researchers hope to learn how various meditation practices affect practitioners. Also of key interest is the question "what kind of voice makes for a good meditation teacher?" The hypothesis of the latter study is that a more relaxed forehead leads to a more meditation-inducing, relaxed voice. Biofeedback using electromyography will be used for this.
The next study will do voice analysis to learn more about what quality of voice is conducive to meditation, using three variables: sound frequencies, intensity and harmonics.
Yet another focus of investigation will examine the benefits of meditation in improving attention in children and was begun during the Yoga Youth and Children's Retreat at SRSG in December 2011. Two main questions were examined in a short 2-session pilot study: Would children show less anxiety and better attention after meditation? The data has not yet been analyzed.
A few years ago, during our Meditation for Pain Management Conference planning stages, I asked an American medical doctor whom I knew and who was immersed in yoga research, "Who does good, solid, scientific yoga research today and where are they?"
"Dr. Shirley Telles," came the unequivocal reply. "She is the most prolific and respected yoga researcher worldwide."
I recalled that Swami Ma Radha Bharati had spoken highly of Shirley Telles upon returning from a yoga conference in Kolkata where Dr. Telles was a speaker. Later, Swami Nityamuktananda Sarasvati met Dr. Telles at Kaivalyadhama Institute for Yoga and Philosophy Research where both were presenters. Over lunch they chatted and Swami Nitya invited Dr. Telles to visit SRSG. When Swami Nitya mentioned that we had a lab, Dr. Telles' interest quickened. She spoke at the Meditation for Pain Management Conference in 2009 on "Meditation and Selective Attention: Possibilities for Pain Management" and at the 2011 Yoga Nidra Conference on "The Neurophysiology of Research on Yoga and Sleep."
Dr. Shirley Telles completed the M.B.B.S. degree in 1984 from Goa Medical College (Goa) and subsequently the M.Phil in Neurophysiology (1987) and Ph.D. in Neurophysiology (1992) form the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences in Bangalore. She is the most prolific of respected yoga researchers worldwide. She is Director of Research at Patanjali Yogpeeth, Haridwar and head of the Indian Council of the Medical Research Centre for Advanced Research in Yoga and Neurophysiology at Bangalore. She is the co-director of the Meditation Research Institute, an AHYMSIN initiative at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh, where Dr. Daniel Jalba, (MD, Ph.D, Australia) is the onsite co-director. Author of 4 books, 15 chapters of books and 108 international journal articles, Dr. Telles' list of accomplishments is daunting.
Still, when you meet Dr. Shirley Telles, what most is striking is her refreshingly humble and pleasant demeanor despite her many achievements, which seem to grow like a banyan, once a tree, then a forest, now a city. Dr. Daniel Jalba speaks not only of her "very analytical mind but also of her flexibility and ability to think out-of-the-box. Her tolerance to ambiguity is a strategic asset when formulating the best approaches to investigating the unknown."
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, she moved with her Goan-descent family to the United Kingdom when she was a few months old. Early years were spent mostly in Botswana and the UK with schooling in the UK. Later she moved to India and jumped into medicine, where she worked hard to catch up with the high level of academics which she found to be considerably ahead of what she had experienced at school in the UK. Choosing the research line over the clinical early on, it did not take her long to realize her interest in yoga; she had taken a yoga course and her hypertension had surprisingly stopped along with other things. She found the theory and experience from her own practice so convincing that she grew curious about how it worked. Her mother had practiced yoga, but Shirley knew little about it. She had begun brain research at the Bangalore National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience and after a short while decided on yoga research and knew that this was what she wanted to do. Yes, everything seemed good.
One wonders how she manages with such a busy schedule of research and speaking engagements. She seems to keep such an easy equilibrium and innate kindness, like one of those hidden Bodhisattvas. When asked, she replies "attitude of mind." She adds that even when she travels she is very regular with her morning practice.
Her youthful demeanor is steady and she enjoys good children's novels like The Chronicles of Narnia series by CS Lewis and the E. Nesbit books like Five Children and It from the turn of the century England, to name a few.
Asked if her work is motivated by a desire to reduce the suffering of humankind, she says "my expectations are not too high. I just observed that yoga made me feel good and I wanted to know why. I think I am doing what I like."
For more about Shirley Telles and her work at the Meditation Research Institute at SRSG, please visit this link: